More leaders on Capitol Hill said this week they want to see three long-pending free trade agreements move simultaneously, while an Administration official indicated intense discussions to address the Administration’s concerns with the Colombia agreement are underway.
Pressure on the Obama Administration to send all three pending free trade agreements to the Hill for consideration at one time ramped up on Monday with a new threat from 44 Senate Republicans to hold up key confirmations until they see action.
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), they said they would block consideration of nominations – including a likely Commerce Secretary nominee and other trade-related nominees – until the agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia, which have been languishing for more than four years, are considered.
The letter was perhaps the strongest statement of consequences yet on the question of if the three agreements should be considered together.
Also on Monday, House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Dave Camp (R-Mich.) and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) released a joint statement saying “[t]he White House’s refusal to act on all three makes no sense” and supporting Senators’ calls for quick action.
Last week, at a Senate Finance Committee hearing on trade, both Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and Ranking Member Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) said they want to see the agreements moved together; later Sen. Dick Lugar (R-Ind.) went a step further and threatened to block consideration of the Korea agreement if it arrives alone.
While the political heat rose on this issue, an official from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative told Congress intense, possibly “around-the-clock” negotiations on the Colombia agreement have started.
At a hearing held by the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee to examine the agreements progress, Deputy USTR Miriam Sapiro said negotiators from the U.S. and Colombia have been in consultation on remaining Administration concerns regarding labor rights in the country. She added that intense talks are beginning late this week, though she offered no deadline for resolution of the latest discussions.
The Colombia agreement is the most important of the three to the U.S. wheat industry, and NAWG and U.S. Wheat Associates have long pushed for its quick passage.
As pointed out by other witnesses at this week’s Ways and Means hearing, wheat producers continue to lose market share because the agreement has not been approved; U.S. Wheat estimates wheat producers alone stand to lose $100 million in sales per year without the agreement.
For more about all three pending agreements, please visit www.wheatworld.org/trade.